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Ava Gardner Fights Back

No matter what your problem is nowadays, blame it on Frankie and Ava, and you’re bound to feel better. This may seem a little farfetched, but it isn’t, because lately the Frank Sinatras have become something of a national scapegoat. Kicking them around seems to bring the same kind of release that pounding on a punching bag does when you’re angry.

Ever since Frank got sore in Mexico last summer and told reporters, “I don’t have to talk to anyone. It wasn’t the press who made me famous; it was my singing and the American public,” he has become the victim of a vicious campaign. People who once professed to be his friends are knifing him behind his back, or making blatantly cruel criticisms of him and his bride to the world.

Even before their marriage, the bricks began to fly. “Artie Shaw didn’t send Ava to a psychiatrist for nothing,” said one “wit” when Ava announced she’d be the new Mrs. Sinatra. “She may not be smart,” another cat meowed, “but you have to give her credit for courage.”

No matter where they go or what they do, the Sinatras are ridiculed, for no logical reason—except maybe that they fell in love, got married and are trying to make it work, and less fortunate people are jealous.

A few weeks ago, Ava and Frank made applications with the army to entertain the troops in Korea. They wanted to do their bit, the way other stars have, but what happened? Some wise guy loafing at a cafe table picked up the news and said, “Get this. The Sinatras are going to Korea. Don’t they know the soldiers would rather see Mickey Mouse?” And the people who heard him laughed, and spread the crack around.

Or Columbia Records releases a new Sinatra disc, “I Hear A Rhapsody,” and the voice is the way it always was, but someone thinks it’s clever to say, “Why do they waste that gorgeous hit on a guy who doesn’t have it anymore?”

This kind of smearing has gotten to be a habit, and a sort of nasty game. People apparently want to see how much the Sinatras can take before they crack. When the newlyweds flew to Europe recently to attend a Command Performance and entertain American troops in Weisbaden, they were accused of battling from here to Germany and home again, and of ruining the performance by being wet blankets. The fact that they spent all their spare time in Germany entertaining soldiers went by the board without any comment. That kind of information just wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the picture that’s being painted.

The Sinatras can take criticism, as the past few months have shown, but now they’re fighting back in their own subtle way. It may be a while before the public sees them as the honest, decent people they really are, but they’ll come into their own again because they have to; they’re on the right side.

Five or six years ago when Frank was earning a million dollars a year and handing out $150 gold cigarette lighters to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, he was considered a wonderful little fellow. When he preached against racial and religious intolerance, he was held up as a progressive, patriotic American. When he made Anchors Aweigh, he was called “the brightest star in the MGM constellation of luminaries.”

When, unpublicized, he paid the hospital bills for Mildred Bailey, his office boy, and half a dozen others, even his detractors admitted that he was a generous man. He was invited to the White House, exclusive country clubs and the finest private homes in America; everyone who was anyone sought his friendship, and more than 200 fan clubs saw to it that he never received less than 800 letters a day. Girls swooned when he crooned, night clubs offered him $50,000 for a week’s work, and symphony orchestras pleaded with him to sing if only for one night.

How come that within the short span of two years, people are hacking away at his reputation with all the energy they’d use to tear down a skyscraper?

The most popular reason offered is that Sinatra made a mistake by being honest enough to leave his first wife because he had stopped loving her, rather than stay around and make both their lives miserable. He left all right, but he was willing to turn over to Nancy one third of his annual income up to $150,000 and 10% of everything above that. And nobody can keep him away from his children whom he visits two or three times a week.

This is no attempt to white-wash Frank Sinatra. Undoubtedly, he has plenty of faults and has committed many indiscretions. He has from time to time surrounded himself with a band of incredibly seedy characters. He is chronically allergic to sensible advice. He is stubborn and temperamental, but insofar as the American people are concerned, he has given them hundreds of hours of fine entertainment. It is lamentable to think that he is now being dragged down into a mine of ill-feeling, and that his talent, which is still considerable, is a target for ridicule.

Contrary to garbled reports originating on the street, Sinatra’s voice is not completely gone. It is still very much in evidence.

Have you seen and heard him in Meet Danny Wilson? His voice was never better. His acting has charm, and quick wit. Yet the local Hollywood yokels were prepared to take in the movie with a laugh—of derision.

Not long ago, Frank was sitting in his office on South Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills. He was talking with one of his television writers. Taking inventory of his position, and thinking about the past few months, Frank became justifiably depressed.

His office building was up for sale. His television program couldn’t attract a sponsor. He hadn’t had a good-selling record in over a year. Universal had shoved back the release date on Meet Danny Wilson, a picture in which he had worked for no salary but a percentage of the profits. His three children were polite to but not particularly enthusiastic about his new wife. He was $40,000 in the hole. There was an even-money chance of CBS cancelling his TV show by June of this year. His fan mail had decreased to a new low. Many of his old friends had deserted him. The 200 Sinatra Fan Clubs had dwindled to four. He felt that the Palm Springs house should be completely done over for Ava—after all, what wife wanted to be reminded of her predecessor? But where was the money coming from?

It all seemed so staggering, that Frank leaned back in his chair and covered his face with his hands.

“Boy,” he said, “I’m really in a spot. I’ve got to get moving.”

But for the first time in his life, Frank Sinatra looked beat. No human being can stand up forever as punching bag to the world, and that afternoon Frank knew it. He came perilously close to breaking down. Fortunately for him, he has a resilient nature and has since bounced back.

That same afternoon seven miles away, in the Pacific Palisades house she had rented from dance director Bob Alton, Ava Sinatra was feeling none too well herself. She was on lay-off, earning no money (she works only 40 weeks a year) and worrying about when the studio would cast her in another Show Boat. Critics who had seen her in Pandora and Lone Star had criticized her films as adequate vehicles but not the hits Ava once thought they might be. She had just turned down parts in three different pictures. 

During her romance with Frank the studio had been none too happy. Fortunately for her, she had many journalist and photographer friends, and they saw her through this trying period. They put her on magazine covers and planted dozens of well-written stories about her activities.

It was Dore Schary who took her out of the doghouse. He cast her in nothing but “A” pictures and ordered the publicity boys to go all-out on a Gardner build-up campaign.

But as Ava began turning down scripts, the studio began to feel that she was being unduly influenced by her new husband, that she wasn’t playing ball, and it was decided to let her stew in her own juice.

On this particular afternoon, Ava was stewing. She was also stewing about the housing situation. She had given her small Nichols Canyon home to her sister Bappie. Frank had given his Holmby Hills house to Nancy. The only house left to the newlyweds was the Palm Springs mansion which was in the process of being re-done, and the re-doing was costing a mint.

In addition to all of this, Ava seemed to feel that that everyone in Hollywood was anxious to have her marriage founder on the rocks, to say, “See, I told you it wouldn’t last.”

That night, Ava and Frank worked out a design for living. They decided to leave town. They would live at Palm Springs away from the gossips and gloom-prophets. They’d stay down on the desert five days a week, drive to Los Angeles on Mondays, return to the desert on Tuesday nights after Frank had finished his TV show.

It worked for a while—not very long—a month or so. Then the stories started anew. Frank has walked out on Ava. Ava had walked out on Frank. Both of them were fighting like a pair of desert rats. Frank was washed-up, so finished that CBS had him down to $3,000 a week, and he was borrowing money from his agent, MCA.

As for Ava, she had had enough. She was moving back with her sister, maybe going home to Smithfield, maybe asking Charley Feldman to get her out of her contract with the studio.

None of this was true. None of it is true. But at long last, instead of doing nothing, Frank and Ava have decided to fight back.

A few weeks ago, for example, a Hollywood press agent called Sinatra down at the desert. “You know how terrible your public relations are,” the publicist diplomatically began. “What you need is someone like me to put you right with the fans.”

“Don’t worry,” Frank said good-naturedly. “I’ll work it out.”

In contrast to former days, Frank wasn’t truculent, or aggressive, he was simply confident that he could win his public back, that eventually the public would judge him by his work.

“We figure,” Ava told friends, “that our behavior is the best way to fight back at all the rumor-mongers. Let them say anything they want to about Frank and me, but years from now we’ll still be together, and people will come to realize that all these stories about us are pure baloney. Not that we don’t have our quarrels and arguments. But this marriage is really working.”

Ava’s new policy calls for her to accompany Frank at every opportunity, to let her actions give lie to the rumors. She doesn’t particularly like large formal functions—they make her nervous—but when Universal recently threw a big shindig for Danny Wilson, Ava was there. When Ava, in February, received a magazine award for her performance in Show Boat, she and Frank were the happiest couple at the Hotel Ambassador.

When Frank finishes his TV show on Tuesday nights, he and Ava dine at Romanoff’s before returning to the desert.

Ava is even learning how to cook. For her birthday, which comes on Christmas Eve, she whipped up a pot of spaghetti for Frank and their good friends the Axel Stordahls.

As for Sinatra, he knows that his career has temporarily turned sour, that impetuous adolescent moves on his part have antagonized the press and consequently the public. But with Ava beside him, he feels that he will never again make those same mistakes, that after a few years of marriage to Ava the public will again respect him as a decent, hard-working family man. He has offered to go to Korea on a USO tour or any place the Army wants him. He is making every effort to atone for his past errors and to become well-liked.

Many persons have asked if Ava can keep Frank a faithful, loving husband. They smile snidely before you can offer a reply or opinion—so sure are they that they can already see the crooked handwriting on the wall.

They forget that Frank is imbued with an indomitable will, that he originally pushed himself to the top by his own efforts, that whatever else he may have been, quitter was never one of them.

Right now, he is trying desperately to get the lead opposite Betty Grable in The Farmer Takes A Wife. He also has another film lined up at Universal, and the nightclubs of Las Vegas still offer him $10,000 for a week’s work. Maybe he isn’t the great attraction he once was, maybe he has two strikes against him, but so long as he has Ava, he’s a long way from being out.

Ava and Frank Sinatra are fighting to make their marriage a success, and as the Good Book sayeth, “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone. . . .”





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